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Video: Trump says he wanted to ‘take out’ Syrian leader Assad, but Mattis talked him out of it

President Donald J. Trump departs from the Pentagon alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Jan. 27, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr/Department of Defense)
September 15, 2020

President Donald Trump said in a Fox News interview Tuesday that he wanted to “take out” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, confirming claims in veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage,” that Trump considered the action against the Syrian leader.

Trump was asked about allegedly wanting to kill Assad after U.S. officials assessed in April 2018 that the Syrian leader used chemical weapons that killed innocents, including children. Responding to the question, Trump said, “I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set,” but Trump said then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the idea.

“Mattis didn’t want to do it,” Trump continued. “Mattis was a highly overrated general and I let him go.”

Trump criticized his former defense secretary and said Mattis “wasn’t doing the job in Syria or Iraq, with respect to ISIS.”

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Asked if he regretted not ordering an attack on Assad, Trump said, “No I don’t regret that. I could’ve lived either way with that. I considered him certainly not a good person, but I had a shot to take him out if I wanted and Mattis was against it — Mattis was against most of that stuff. He’d keep you in military, but he didn’t know how to win.”

Instead of attacking Assad directly, Trump did order strikes against multiple Syrian government positions housing Assad’s chemical weapon research, development and production facilities. At the time, Mattis said the strikes sent a message to Syrian leaders “that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable.”

Mattis departed from the Trump administration in December 2018, about eight months after the April 2018 strikes on Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. Mattis’ resignation came a day after Trump expressed support for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

After leaving the Trump administration, Mattis initially expressed a desire to avoid speaking about or disparaging his former boss. Mattis said in December 2019 that “The people who want me to say more generally are ones who want me to come out against the president.”

Mattis has since changed his position against disparaging the administration, and in June 2020, accused Trump of making a “mockery of our constitution” over his response to widespread civil unrest following the death of a black man, George Floyd, in May.

According to the Washington Post, Woodward’s new book “Rage” out Tuesday, includes “brutal assessments” of Trump by Mattis, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other former administration officials.

Woodward’s book also claimed Mattis told Coats “there may come a time when we have to take collective action” because he viewed Trump as “dangerous” and “unfit.”